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navigating the hurdles of hybrid workplace

After Covid-19 restrictions anchored most businesses in a fog of suspended work, after the months of improvised, reactive work that followed, organizations are again charting courses and moving forward—but they’re in brand new territory. It’s clear that in some industries 9-5 office hours are largely obsolete, that employees want flexibility in when and where they work, and that, in a blazing hot job market, they’ve got greater ability to call the shots. Offering flexibility is becoming crucial to retaining and recruiting top talent, so it’s no surprise that many organizations, public and private, small and large, are settling on hybrid schedules that allow employees to work in the office some days and remotely on others. Along with the benefits of reduced costs and more diverse, engaged workers, the new paradigm brings challenges that will require some artful navigation.

Numbers in the News

A Wall Street Journal article in May cited an Ernst & Young global survey of more than 16,000 employees, in which “90% said they wanted flexibility in when and where they work post-pandemic. More than half said they would consider quitting their jobs if they didn’t have that flexibility.”

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Nicholas Bloom said that interviews with hundreds of managers and research he conducted with colleagues Jose Maria Barrero and Steven J. Davis have determined that “about 70% of firms, from tiny companies to massive multinationals like Google, Citi, and HSBC, plan to move to some form of hybrid working.”

A Catalyst survey of more than 7,400 global workers, cited by Bizwomen in June, found that “women caring for children are 32% less likely to say they intend to leave their jobs if they are able to work remotely, compared to women with the same childcare responsibilities but no access to remote work.”

Stats like these abound. For business leaders, adapting to the new reality means building a new system of work that will require a shift in both mentalities and logistics. Challenges will include making sure that communication and productivity remain efficient, protecting remote workers from becoming second class citizens with lower rates of advancement, and planning for changes in the use of physical space.

Listen to your People

Building mutual trust and respect between managers and workers, as well as within teams, is essential. It not only allows hybrid systems to function successfully, but also becomes a perk for all sides. Leaders can trust that work will get done in a timely manner and workers are liberated from feeling scrutinized and monitored.

 

  • One size does not fit all. There’s no blueprint for flexibility that will work for every organization. Ask employees what they need and what they want—and listen.
  • Listen empathetically. When leaders are genuinely empathetic to life situations, such as the burden of finding and affording childcare, supporting ailing parents, or managing long commutes, workers know they’re respected. Getting creative with logistics can help retain talented employees, earning loyalty and appreciation while preserving institutional knowledge.
  • Communicate clearly. Get buy-in from all team members when creating a hybrid schedule and communicate it clearly in advance, so everyone sets out with the same expectations.
  • Be flexible about flexibility. It’s new. Some things an organization tries will fail. When they do, get feedback and try something else.

Be Strategic About Schedules

Determining which employees come into the office on which days is an obvious task in building out a hybrid schedule, but may warrant more thought than expected. Before even thinking about days of the week, pause to decide who will make that choice—workers or their managers.

In light of his research, HBR’s Nicholas Bloom began recommending that managers make the call. Self-selected remote workers may risk being excluded or overlooked in the near term, and diverging paths between demographic groups can cause deeper trouble down the road. “Single young men could all choose to come into the office five days a week and rocket up the firm, while employees with young children, particularly women, who choose to (work from home) for several days each week are held back,” he writes. “This would be both a diversity loss and a legal time bomb for companies.”
Regardless of who creates the schedule, synchronizing in-person days for teams will be more efficient than trying to manage collaborating groups that have some people at home and some in the office. Dennis Meyer, a freelance television producer in Los Angeles quoted in a CNN Business story in June, puts it this way: “Nothing is faster or more practical than just looking across the room and talking to someone with your voice. The instant you have to pick up a phone or write a message you’re wasting valuable time.”
Organizations might also consider synchronizing remote work. While this structure is more challenging to those working across time zones, quicker response times within remote teams that are working simultaneously make communicating and decision-making far more efficient.

Rethink your Space

Hybrid models can significantly reduce costs as long as the use of physical space is efficient. Start with thoughtful scheduling to avoid overcrowding on certain days and empty rooms on others, but also consider changes to office design. Maybe cubicles make way for more meeting rooms, personalized stations become communal desks, or blank walls in collaborative spaces get dressed with screens to circle up with remote colleagues. For many, a little remodeling might beat letting go of the lease.

There’s no denying that the path to a smooth hybrid work model will contain some hurdles. Navigate them by listening to your people and communicating well in order to build mutual trust and respect. With a little strategy and willingness to keep trying to find what works, organizations can save time, spend less, and achieve more with a happy and productive workforce. ProspectBlue Flex can help. Our experienced recruiters specialize in workplace flexibility, connecting employers with top candidates in competitive markets. We offer strategic consulting to help organizations navigate change, achieve growth, and bring people back to work. flex@prospectblue.com

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company

ProspectBlue
1650 Willow Lawn Drive
Richmond, VA 23230
Suite 300

(804) 282-1289
info@prospectblue.com

follow us

         

An Affiliate of
ProspectBlue Ventures